Mazda MX-5: The definitive article
Mazda has treated its MX-5 sports car to a power boost and other upgrades. It makes the roadster even more addictive, says William Scholes
YOU have to feel sorry for the poor folk at Mazda tasked with improving the company's MX-5 sports car, writes William Scholes.
An established Drive favourite, the fourth generation of the little roadster was nigh-on perfect when it was launched in 2015.
Sure, a few more inches of legroom and headroom might have been welcome, but that's maybe more to do with this correspondent's lanky frame than any particular failing of the MX-5.
Anyway, feeling snug when you're behind the wheel is entirely appropriate for a sports car that you don't so much travel in as wear.
This near-telepathic sense of oneness, driver and machine, is key to the MX-5 experience.
It has never been about the bluntness of out-and-out power. The Mazda is a more subtle concoction than that.
The success of its secret recipe lies in the way all the ingredients - steering, gearbox, throttle, brakes, chassis - complement each other perfectly; the MX-5 is a dish prepared by three-star Michelin chefs at the very top of their game.
Perfectionists will always find room for improvement, however, and so it is with the engineers at Mazda.
Improving their MX-5 menu has driven them to deliver a bunch of improvements that are at once detailed and comprehensive.
There is the expected upgrades to safety kit and in-car technology. If you're in the market for an MX-5 these are probably not at the top of your list of priorities, though.
Instead, the 2.0-litre engine's power jump from 158bhp to 182bhp - or 184PS in metric money - is more likely to catch the eye.
That sort of power hike would be relatively easy if Mazda did what everyone else does and used a turbocharger.
But the Japanese company has thus far avoided turbocharging on its most driver-focused car. It wouldn't, you see, be in keeping with the MX-5's sharp throttle response, the engine's lack of inertia and its high-revving nature.
To deliver the extra power Mazda has heavily overhauled the engine, in what sounds like much the way a racing team might have done in the 1970s.
The success of its secret recipe lies in the way all the ingredients - steering, gearbox, throttle, brakes, chassis - complement each other perfectly; the MX-5 is a dish prepared by three-star Michelin chefs at the very top of their game
Lighter pistons have been fitted. There's a new con-rod, too, and revisions to the camshafts and exhaust valves. While they were at it, the fuel injectors, throttle valve and air intake were also changed.
As well as the extra horsepower, the engine now has a higher red line of 7,500rpm instead of 6,800rpm. There is also a marginal increase in torque, although chasing lb.ft has never been part of the Mazda's routine - if that's your thing and you want a two-seat roadster, there's always the Fiat 124 Spider, which is an MX-5 in drag with a turbo engine.
The 0-62mph time drops by 0.8 seconds to 6.5 seconds - though, again, the MX-5 is less about the facts of its figures than the sensations it transmits while it delivers them.
When this generation of MX-5 arrived, the 2.0-litre engine was offered alongside a 1.5-litre unit.
The smaller engine was, at least in this correspondent's view, the sweetest of the pair. It revved harder and more freely, and it felt more effervescent and responsive.
By comparison, the 2.0-litre felt a little heavier and, well, less MX-5ish. The revised 2.0-litre changes all that, however. It now feels like the beefier engine that the car should have had all along. The 1.5-litre engine has also received some upgrades, though we are yet to drive it.
Because the nice people at Mazda are proper car enthusiasts, they had laid on a brilliant route - the UK launch was held in Northern Ireland - along which to test the 2.0-litre car's credentials.
From above the beach at Rossnowlagh, we pointed the MX-5 in the direction of the R232 towards Pettigo. This is a thrilling, helter-skelter of a mountain road, a brilliant match to the equally brilliant Mazda
From Tyrone and Fermanagh - perfect MX-5 territory - we criss-crossed the border in and out of Cavan and Leitrim, towards Donegal. Hopefully such trips will still be as accessible and as much fun post-Brexit...
From above the beach at Rossnowlagh, we pointed the MX-5's nose - the position of the front wheels signalled by delicate blisters either side of the bonnet - in the direction Donegal town, before turning off the N15 near Laghy to take the R232 towards Pettigo.
This is a thrilling, helter-skelter of a mountain road. It provides a thorough test of any car - particularly its suspension, chassis and body control - and it is difficult to think of anything that would have been a better companion than the MX-5. It was a brilliant road's equally brilliant match.
The new engine certainly delivers more oomph and get-up-and-go, and its appetite for revs is addictive.
The MX-5 has always been like that; even a short drive leaves you hungry for more.
Mazda's latest expert revisions simply make it harder to resist the temptations of what remains the definitive two-seater roadster. It also means the MX-5 is still one of the best new cars on sale today.
AT A GLANCE
Mazda MX-5 184PS GT Sport Nav+
Price: £25,795. As tested £26,585 with soul red 'crystal metallic' paint at £790
Engine and transmission: 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol, six-speed manual gearbox, rear-wheel-drive; 182bhp, 151lb.ft
Performance: Top speed 136mph, 0-62mph in 6.5 seconds
Fuel consumption and CO2: 40.9mpg, 156g/km
Car tax: £515 in first year, then £140 annually
Benefit in kind: 32 per cent
Euro Ncap safety rating: Four stars (84/80/93/64), 2015